Several weeks ago at the 30th anniversary of ABA TECHSHOW, security experts firmly warned attendees about the dangers of using public Wi-Fi (not to mention several other security topics). The experts stated that while they knew many users in the room were aware of the risks associated with it, users utilized it anyway, because of the convenience, cost (it's cheap=free), and mindset that they would only be on it for a short period of time (short time = data won't get compromised/stolen).
Various experts stated that while the hotel WiFi appeared to be safe, users were taking a huge risk by being on any form of public Wi-Fi, regardless of location or credibility. Security experts proved their case by using many different examples of how devices/data could be compromised on a public Wi-Fi network with just a little bit of knowledge or tech savvy and a few tools. The results? Over and over, it was shown how public wi-fi in places like hotels, airports, restaurants, etc., makes a perfect target for malicious hackers to tap into a world of free roaming data.
The common question being, what should a user do when he or she is on the road and in need of an internet connection or the equivalent form of WiFi? What forms of remote access besides public WiFi are out there?
The tips from the experts:
- Turn off all public Wi-Fi. (For that matter, don't use WiFi altogether unless it is your own private Wi-Fi network (and even then, be sure your own private Wi-Fi network is secure as private does not always mean secure)).
- Don't use any open Wi-Fi networks unless it is a WPA 2 encrypted network with a password. (Click here to find out how to tell on a Windows or Mac Computer). Note that if you do use or have a WPA 2 connection, your data may not be secure. Consider using a WPA 2 Enterprise connection (WPA-ENT) instead of a WPA2-Personal (WPA-PSK) connection.
- Make sure all website URLS (especially those that you have to enter any kind of payment information (like credit or debit cards) or sensitive data, etc.) contain HTTPS (to show it is a secured connection) and not HTTP. Utilize HTTPS Everywhere (plug-in for Firefox and Chrome browsers to make sure websites only go to an HTTPS connection).
- Set up and use a virtual private network or VPN (Note: unless you are very tech savvy and have set up a VPN before, you probably want to hire an IT consultant to help you set up the VPN initially to make sure it is set up correctly and is secure)
- Set up and use a hotspot (if you are unable to use a VPN). There are different kinds of hotspots - you can purchase a mobile mi-fi hotspot device from your cellular carrier, or you can use your cell phone as your mobile hotspot (extra data charges may apply). Check out this article from PCAdvisor on how to use your smartphone as a hotspot.
- Make sure your security software is up to date and turned on. If you are on a shared wireless network, make sure your firewall software is turned on and up to date. Make sure network sharing is turned off if you are on a shared or public network.
- Use two-factor authentication for websites who give you that option
For more information, see this Attorney at Work post on the dangers of public Wi-Fi. The key for law firms is education. Don't be an ostrich and bury your head in the sand. You owe it your clients and yourself.
Written by: Emily Worley, PMAP Assistant
Edited by: Courtney Kennaday, Director, PMAP
South Carolina Bar